Eliminating Violence

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It is also the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an annual international campaign that runs through December 10, Human Rights Day. 

Global WA just shared an issue brief that explores how the COVID-19 epidemic has exacerbated underlying challenges, and highlights NGOs who are implementing promising interventions to put a stop to it at the local, national and international levels. Vista Hermosa Foundation is on that list.

New strategies hold promise for reducing gender-based violence, even as COVID-19 adds to challenges.

by Joanne Wu, November 24, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed gender-based violence back into the spotlight. The United Nations (UN) and others have reported a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” against women as a result of lockdowns around the world, with some calling it the “shadow pandemic.”

Within the first two weeks of lockdowns in France, the interior minister at the time said that reports of domestic violence increased by 40 percent, according to the Washington Post. In Lebanon, CARE found that 54 percent of the women it surveyed reported an increase in violence and harassment, while 44 percent said they felt less safe at home. Another survey published in October found that more than 70 percent of displaced and refugee women in Africa have witnessed increased domestic violence in their communities during the pandemic.

This comes amid celebrations of 25 years since the Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995 resulted in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, an agenda that has been hailed as a landmark in the global fight for gender equality. While there has been progress in some of the 12 issues identified by the agenda as key areas of concern, “no country is even close to fully delivering on the commitments,” wrote UN News on the anniversary of the historic conference. Even before the pandemic, for example, gender-based violence was “alarmingly high,” according to UN Women: Nearly one in five women reported experiencing violence at the hands of an intimate male partner in the past 12 months.

And, it’s an expensive problem. A recent study found that domestic violence has cost Lesotho 5.5 percent of its gross domestic product or nearly $2 billion a year. Some of that is the cost of health, police, and judicial services in response to domestic violence cases, but also lost productivity as a result. In the U.S., the UN Population Fund has estimated that intimate partner violence against women costs more than $8 billion annually. Those estimates do not include damage to the development and future earning potential of children who witness the violence.

For many, the anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action was a wake-up call. At a high-level meeting at the UN General Assembly, world leaders renewed their commitments to take action, including increasing financing. According to UN Women, only 48 countries are treating services that deal with violence against women and girls as an essential part of their national and local COVID-19 response plans, “with very few adequately funding these measures.” And many organizations that offer these services have actually experienced “severe funding cuts” as a result of the pandemic.

But the services these organizations provide are critical to the safety and survival of women. For example, in Lebanon, Mercy Corps hosts dialogue sessions for Syrian refugees to raise awareness of gender-based violence and connects survivors to medical and legal services, psychological support, and safe housing. Friends of Women’s Protection Center Nepal also provides shelter, food, and education to at-risk women and children.

It’s not just direct services that require additional funding. Civil society organizations have reported to UN Women that one of the main drivers of violence against women and girls this year has been the economic impact of the pandemic on families and communities. Not only can economic stress lead to violent conflicts, but lack of financial independence often compels women and girls to stay in abusive situations.

That’s why the work of organizations like Awamaki and Landesa are critical during this time. Awamaki helps women artisans in the mountains of Peru start and run their own businesses, in addition to hosting trainings that build gender-based violence awareness. Landesa’s work in promoting women’s land rights not only empowers women financially, but also helps to transform gender power dynamics. The organization has also been working with USAID and PepsiCo in West Bengal, India, to raise awareness of gender-based violence in agricultural supply chains.

But increasingly, experts and advocates are recognizing that in order to affect widespread change, men must be part of the dialogue and movement to transform gender norms. For example, MenEngage is a network of organizations working to promote gender equality by changing the perceptions of men and boys. It takes a feminist approach to challenge patriarchal gender norms and power imbalances, teaching men how to be allies to women and other social justice movements.

Meanwhile, Sahar Education and Days for Girls – organizations focused on women and girls – have both launched programs to reach men. Sahar’s Men as Partners in Change not only challenges men’s current perceptions about gender and women in Afghanistan, but also creates a space for them to discuss fatherhood and caregiving, mental health and trauma, physical health, and being “male champions” for positive change. Meanwhile, the Men Who Know program by Days for Girls teaches boys and men about menstruation, how it’s natural and how they can support women. It also discusses men’s health and “real strength versus violence.”

Similarly, Kati Collective sees violence against women not as a female problem, but as a human problem that, like all development challenges, requires engaging with men and boys while supporting women and girls.

But some have pointed out that after 25 years, the Beijing Platform for Action – though still groundbreaking – is showing its age, so to speak. For example, it doesn’t specifically address climate or the rights of people who are LGBTIQ, even though gender-based violence is the most common form of violence they face – again because of perceptions about norms. OutRight Action International has been providing support and assistance to LGBTIQ people facing violence, especially during the pandemic. But they’ve also been fighting on the policy stage for years to include violence against LGBTIQ people in the global conversation about gender-based violence.

Clearly, there is still much work to be done in regards to gender equality, especially as the pandemic threatens progress – even reversals – on fronts like eliminating gender-based violence. But perhaps the 25th anniversary of the monumental Beijing Platform for Action has served as a call-to-action. Maybe this time, governments, civil society and the private sector will stand behind their commitments and accelerate action to create a safe and equal world for women and girls everywhere.

For the article and full list of organizations click here.

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